NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Mary Bawden, Founder & Executive Director of DA:NCE (Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited). Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
It’s special to watch a young child put on their first pair of dance shoes at their first dance class and watch them anticipate their first performance. You, friends, already know that the research demonstrates that dance is a wonderful activity for children: improved academic performance, brain development, creativity, risk taking, emotional maturity and more.
I relate personally to what the research says because that's my story. It probably relates to your story too. In my childhood, my life embodied the positive results that research data in dance shows. I started dance at age 11 and grew up experiencing it as a central part of my identity. It changed me, actually transformed me, from a shy little girl to a confident woman. By the time I was in high school, I had studied ballet with master teachers Shiela Darby and Olga Fricker who founded Cecchetti USA. Eventually, that led me to receive a BA in modern dance from the University of California at Riverside, teach on the community college level, choreograph presentations for over 20 years at a church, and write a book. From my early years into the 21st century, dance created much of what I am today.
But something has changed. During the last decade, there has been a cultural shift from healthy, educational children’s dance to harmful, hypersexualized children’s dance at younger and younger ages. While many of us don’t like the shift from age-appropriate children’s dance to hypersexualized children’s dance (in adult costumes, choreography and music), it’s been challenging to know what to do about this negative media influence. For a while I did nothing.
It was about 15 years ago that I sat in a student-directed university dance concert watching dance after dance of hypersexualized choreography (accompanied by hooting and hollering). I was frustrated and concerned about the commodification of women. But I thought, “What can I do about what I am seeing? Most dancers are over 18 years of age and they are free to choose what they want to participate in.” That is, until I began seeing the same hypersexualized dances at high school age dance concerts, junior high age dance concerts, elementary age dance presentations, and then pre-school presentations. Ugh.
That’s what led me to sit down at the computer and begin to do some research about what I was viewing. For starters, I found a American Psychological Association report on the sexualization of girls. Then I found data that included some of the horrific outcomes that result from the culture of hypersexualiation. These include increasing hypermasculinity for boys and the fact that girls are seen as less intelligent. One researcher called this trend “corporate paedophilia.” (For more information, see the links at the end of this post.)
Yes, there are always negative uses of positive things. But what we’re experiencing in cultural hypersexualization is way beyond ‘a negative influence.’ It’s an epidemic. National experts at the National Center of Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in Washington D.C., have determined that our culture is in the midst of a public health crisis from hypersexualization exposure on all cultural levels including children’s dance. That’s the reason I can look through the lens of an unfiltered media culture and see that the art of dance has been distorted. As a dance educator, I can’t align myself with a harmful trend that hurts children. Why are we putting children in adult costumes, choreography and music when the research shows that it is harmful? Why are we normalizing what is not normal in children’s dance? And if the adults who love dance don’t speak up about the distortion of hypersexualization in dance for our youngest citizens, who will?
As poet and cultural critic Allen Ginsberg said, “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”
I can’t control the mass media communication flowing into our culture but I can engage my voice to share materials that support healthy dance choices and support you as you deal with an over-sexualized dance culture. That’s why I founded Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited (DA:NCE) with the following educational goals:
1.) To protect children from hypersexualization in adult costumes, choreography and music, and to protect the art of dance.
2.) To provide free research materials to give adults informed choices about the differences between healthy or harmful dance.
3.) To engage in respectful conversations about hypersexualization without shaming/demonizing adults or dance studios so that there is a path for reflection and changed perspectives.
4.) To communicate the hypersexualization of children in dance and its connection to the public health issue of pornography with bipartisan engagement.
Because of these goals, DA:NCE has provided evidence-based research to give you the tools you need to educate parents, uninformed adults, and other colleagues who don’t know what the data indicates. And let’s admit it. Many dance environments don’t have a clue about the negative outcomes. Let’s come together to protect children and our art form. In the future, we don’t want a ‘me too movement’ in dance. That’s why I want to share some DA:NCE resources with you:
1.) In June 2019, I interviewed national leaders in Washington DC at the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Summit (CESE) to get their views on ‘Healthy or Harmful Dance: What Do the Experts Say?’ DA:NCE also released a PG trailer alongside the film, which you can find at our website.
2.) We offer a newsletter that provides timely and regular updates.
3.) We have several powerpoint presentations for you to educate others on the problem of exploitation through hypersexualization in children’s dance.
4.) There are also many videos and research links to view and discuss with parents, colleagues, and dance studios.
Mary Bawden received a BA in modern dance from UCRiverside, a MA and a California secondary teaching credential. She choreographed and developed a dance ministry at her church for over 20 years. In 2016 she released a book about faith-based dance. Several years ago, Mary noticed that the culture around children’s dance was moving towards an unhealthy trend – the sexualization of children under 12 in adult costumes, choreography and music. That focus translated into a desire to advocate for healthy, age-appropriate, educational children’s dance rather than harmful dance. Mary founded DA:NCE (dance awareness: no child exploited) in 2016, and has spoken at the 2018 NDEO National Conference, CDEA (California dance educator’s organization), CAHPERD (California Health Physical Education Recreation and Dance) and the National CESE (Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation) Summits in Washington D.C. She is committed to providing educational materials for adults to protect children from harmful dance outcomes. She has been interviewed by and written for TV, podcast, and radio hosts. In 2020, DA:NCE released a new group of online resources for dance educators & other concerned adults featuring national experts & evidence-based research on the differences between healthy and harmful children’s dance.